Boogie Fever

In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”

Ah, naivete.

Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.

But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.

This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.

Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.

Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.

The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.

The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.

My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?

Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.

You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.

This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).

Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.

Uptight (Everything’s Alright)

Tuesday morning and we’re still in the brief respite we get in Parade Season, the second of the two day period where there are no parades. I will have to leave the office early both tomorrow and Thursday to get home before the streets are closed; Friday I will have to run errands in the morning. I am going to swing by the grocery store and the post office on my way home this evening, since I won’t be able to do either again until Friday morning, and of course I won’t be able to leave the neighborhood from Friday evening at five pm through Monday morning–because who knows what time Bacchus will be finished Sunday night? And it’s not likely I’ll be in the mood to make a grocery run then, anyway.

Heavy sigh.

The struggle living inside the parade route is real.

I am tired this morning but not sleepy tired; more that my muscles are tired from going to the gym yesterday. My mental acuity is there (I think) but it just depends. I have also decided this morning that this story I’ve been trying to finish for this March 1 deadline simply isn’t going to work. I think it can work, at some point; I just right now can’t wrap my mind around the concept of how to justify committing the murder gels in my main character’s head; the motivations just aren’t strong enough, and I need him to kill this guy just isn’t good enough to make the story work (of course, on March 2 it will come to me), So I am going to dig through the files today and tonight to see if I can find something else that I can finish or rewrite to make work for this call. I still have a week, and of course March 1 is a stay-at-home holiday for me (no Fat Tuesday partying for me this year, thank you very much), so I have that entire day to work on it–which is also incredibly helpful. Just going through the files this morning between answering emails and taking breaks from writing this has been enormously helpful already–also has reminded me of some really good ideas I’ve had but never saw all the way through to a completed draft (“To Sacrifice a Pawn” is a really nasty little story, and so is “The Flagellants”), which is also a good thing.

And I really need to make a new to-do list. I also need to get all my notes of things I need to get done together to create a master list of everything that I need to get done. Heavy heaving sigh.

But we did finish watching Reacher last night, and while it was disappointing to confirm that each season will indeed follow another book in the series and Reacher himself will most likely be the only carry-over character (I’d become attached to some of the other members of the cast, especially Willa Fitzgerald) it makes sense because Reacher is, by nature, a paladin or a knight errant; a man who wanders and whom trouble often finds. Therefore you can’t have any regular characters on the show other than the man himself…which means never get attached to any of the other characters (because they are also disposable and can be killed off at any moment) because they will not be carrying over into the next season. But I thought the show was incredibly well done and well cast and well written; it’s one of the better thriller series I’ve seen, and I am definitely going to keep watching when it returns.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow.

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

Superheated

And now it is Sunday in the Lost Apartment. I trust everyone had a most lovely and delightful Saturday? I did; I spent most of it cleaning and reading and watching figure skating and making groceries and running errands and doing all sorts of things that didn’t involve writing. I’m not entirely sure again why I am avoiding writing–yesterday methinks it was primarily due to the hangover of the final push to finish the short story, as well as trying to purge it out of my brain. Part of the joy of being a writer apparently is the absolute guarantee of self-doubt and second guessing everything once you’ve turned the story/manuscript in. I spent way too much time yesterday wondering “maybe I should have done this” and “maybe I should have done that” and on and on it goes–with the occasional second thoughts about the novel I turned in two weeks ago as well. Enormously lovely, you see.

But the figure skating was fun to watch, as always, and congratulations to our national champions (the men’s title will be decided today, with Nathan Chen most likely becoming the first US man to win five consecutive national titles in a row since Dick Button’s post-war dominance, winning seven in a row and two Olympic gold medals (a feat unparalleled until Japan’s Yuzuru Honyu won the last two Olympics). It’s also interesting to me how strong the United States has become in the ice dancing discipline this century, after decades of not being up to international snuff. The Saints also are playing today in the play-offs; playing Tampa Bay and Tom Brady for the third time and hoping to pull off the hat trick.

Today is going to be mostly spent reading and cleaning, methinks; I need to focus on my reread of the Kansas book manuscript and make some decisions about where it’s going to go, how to clean it up, what can be kept and what can be discarded. The manuscript currently sits somewhere around 75000 words, give or take; I need to add some more to it while taking other stuff out; strengthening some bits while underplaying others. I am also still greatly enjoying Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, and am looking forward to spending some more time with Mary Russell…although I must confess that I am going to have to be very careful with reading more Sherlockian fiction, whether it’s actually Conan Doyle’s or pastiches, because revisiting the Sherlockian universe makes me want to write some more about my own Sherlockian universe. The period of time in New Orleans history where I have put my Holmes has already been written about by David Fulmer, in his series beginning with Jass, and I may have to revisit those novels–it’s been a long time since I read them, and I also remember enjoying them. Anyway, I am digressing, as always, from the original point: writing that Sherlock story has given me the bug to write about him some more, and as usual, I am thinking not only in terms of a short story but of a novel as well…with the full knowledge that actually Sherlockians will undoubtedly see my own feeble attempts as an abomination and heresy.

I’ve also been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln in dribs and drabs. I am enjoying it, but the lovely thing about Vidal’s writing is it isn’t like reading a thriller or a good mystery; you can put it down at any point and walk away from it, not missing it until you pick it up again. I am a fan of Vidal’s, even though he seems as though he would have been a horrible person to know–a snob both intellectually as well as in terms of class–but he also was fiercely intelligent and witty, and he looked at the United States with a jaundiced, unsentimental eye. I don’t think I’ve really read much about Lincoln as an adult–I of course read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals back in the day, but don’t really remember much about it. Yesterday I also started reading through my copy of The Black Death by Phillip Ziegler–I have a vague idea for a murder mystery, most likely a short story, set during the plague years in Florence; I don’t think there is much modern fiction set during that time, so of course I am interested in it. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year reading plague histories and fictions (yet somehow not rereading Stephen King’s The Stand) and I still would like to get back to my story “The Flagellants,” which I was having a lot of fun with last spring.

I’m also seeing conversations on-line about whether authors should include the pandemic in their fictions or not, which seems kind of counter-intuitive; did New York writers pretend 9/11 didn’t happen? Did New Orleans writers pretend Katrina was a near-miss? In both cases the answer is no. You may not want to write fiction set during the pandemic, but we cannot pretend the pandemic didn’t happen–particularly since it’s on-going. It’s hard to write about something–even harder to read about it–when you are still in the midst of it because you don’t know how it’s going to end. By the time I started writing Murder in the Rue Chartres it was already apparent New Orleans was going to come back from the flood, even if what the new city would look like was still being debated, was still uncertain, and up in the air. I’ve never written about Scotty’s experiences with Katrina, rather choosing to pick up his story several years later with the flood, the evacuation and everything else entailed in the destruction of 90% of the city in the rearview mirror. I get that readers might not want to read about and relive this past year plus; but I don’t see how you can write honestly about an America where it never happened. The last four years of this administration–including the sack of the Capitol–also cannot be entirely ignored either. So what to do? I suspect history isn’t going to be terribly kind to the insurrectionists nor the anti-maskers (deservedly so), particularly since they are the ones who politicized public health and safety because they believed the Mammon they’ve worshipped like a cult for so long; their own golden calf, as it were–despite all the warnings in their Bible. Ah, the dilemmas we modern writers face!

I do sometimes wonder if writers during the Civil War wondered if they should write about the war or not in their work.

And on that note, tis time for me to start mining spice here on Kessel, so it’s off into the mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

You Are In Love

Wednesday, and technically the last day of my vacation; even though tomorrow I am working from home before a three day weekend–so at least tomorrow I won’t have to leave the house, other than getting my first COVID-19 vaccination, with another to come 28 days later. That’s a good reason to leave the house, frankly–I can’t think of a better one, to be honest. I’m incredibly lucky to have not gotten it already, frankly–still not entirely convinced I didn’t have it back when I was sick last spring, but the test was negative. I will continue to wear a mask whenever I am out in public–don’t want to set a bad example–and besides, as I have noted before, I haven’t even caught a cold this winter thus far; and that’s a rarity and clearly a benefit of the mask. I may wear one during cold-and-flu season from now on.

Yesterday was an utter waste of time, thanks again to Apple Support. I wanted to print out the latest chapters I’d finished and reread them before I moved on to yesterday’s writing–but when I tried to open one of the files from the Cloud my piece of shit MacBook Air told me that Word was “damaged” and thus couldn’t be opened. I had to delete it from my computer and then re-download it…and guess what? NOT ENOUGH FUCKING STORAGE AGAIN. Um, it was JUST on my computer, but now there’s no room for it? So yes, I spent the entire afternoon fucking with Apple support; eventually having to take my computer back to factory settings and start it over like it was brand new. Hurray! I could download Word again! But the Cloud? Ha ha ha ha! Oh, how cute you are to think that this would help my computer to function. Just like when I bought it, I could not access the Cloud through my Finder window–I mean, I could, but the Finder window kept telling me THERE WAS NOTHING STORED THERE. I even manually went to the iCloud website to sign in–yep, there it all was. So back to working with Apple support. After forty-five minutes of waiting for “Iselda” or whatever the fuck her name was to figure out how to fix it….to no avail, and often telling me to try things I already had done, etc–she had the nerve to say, “Well, maybe it’s still syncing and everything will show up later.” Yeah, thanks for nothing, you incompetent bitch. So, looks like I’ll be taking the piece of shit to the Apple Store in Metairie.

I really do NOT understand why this has to be so hard, you know?

Yeah, I’m bitter. You would be, too. Now I have to try to play catch up.

But I did stop by the library yesterday to pick up Unveiling the Muse: The Lost History of Gay Carnival in New Orleans by Howard Philips Smith, and wow! It must weigh five to ten pounds; it’s enormous. I may have to eventually get my own copy, simply because as a resource it is simply too good to not always have on hand. It has all the histories of the gay krewes and balls, pictures going back decades–and details about gay clubs and not-gay-clubs that gays hung out in; and so many pictures! It was also fun seeing people I know (or knew) pictured within its pages. I really wish I had kept a better diary/journal back in the days when we first moved here; so many friends and acquaintances have come and gone since then. Looking through the book was quite a lovely trip down Memory Lane for me–remembering people I’ve not seen or thought about in years, some of whom I simply knew from the bars and who knew? Some of them were major players in the queer rights movement here in New Orleans. This book is definitely going to come in handy for me with writing fiction about the gay New Orleans past.

It looks like it’s going to be another beautiful day here in New Orleans. I am going to be going to the gym later this morning, and then I am taking Paul to work–we’re stopping at Office Depot to get supplies for his office, and I need paper and an ink cartridge for my printer–and he has a book for me at his office, and then it’s back home to desperately try to get caught up on the book. Gah, yesterday was so damned frustrating.

I was also thinking back over the year (not as effective as one might think, as my memory has really declined over the last few years), trying to remember things that gave me pleasure in 2020. There was an awful lot of good television programs we watched, and of course I have enjoyed the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which will be rolling over into the new year. I know I read some wonderful books over the course of the year–and I also reread some that I greatly enjoyed and seemed new to me. I also recall reading a lot of pandemic literature in the early days of the shutdown; histories of the Black Death and the Spanish flu, short stories and novels about epidemics…I finally got around to reading Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death”, along with a reread of Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” but I don’t think I got around to Richard Matheson’s classic I Am Legend…but really should have. I also didn’t reread Stephen King’s The Stand, but once I get my own writing needs under control around here, maybe I’ll give the abridged, originally published version a go.

I know I also started writing a pandemic story that I never managed to finish: “The Flagellants,” and finishing it is at the top of my list of things to get done once this book is finished. I kind of also have to go directly into the next book, without much of a break between, but once it is finished on March 1 and turned in, I’ll have some breathing space for a moment or two before I need to get going on Chlorine. I’d really like to have a good working first draft of Chlorine finished by May 1. My main characters is starting to come to me in bits and pieces–he served in the Navy, he escaped Kansas into the Navy when he was eighteen; he comes to Hollywood after he musters out to become a movie star, which is when he meets his “starmaker” agent, and while he is very good-looking and charismatic…he’s not especially talented as an actor, and so gets some supporting roles in A-list movies and leads in B-list movies, but his”star” never really takes off. His agent is of course inspired by Henry Willson; and the plot of the book revolves around blackmail, murder, and survival.

And on that note, I should get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Lakes

Yesterday was one of those lovely autumn days in New Orleans that always reminds me how lucky those of us who get to live here actually are. Oh, what a gorgeous day it was, with the temperature in the mid-seventies, the sun shining and the sky that brilliant sapphire shade of blue. As I am sure you can imagine, Halloween is extremely popular in New Orleans, and I love seeing the way people go all out in decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holiday. So, driving uptown in the early afternoon hours of such a glorious day, and seeing the lovely houses all festooned in their orange and black spectral finery was quite relaxing and joyous. The shade from the live oaks also seems somewhat spooky in October–not sure why that is, it just is.

I definitely need to take my phone and go for a lengthy walk, taking pictures.

I proofed the story yesterday–a start on getting things done–and then turned on the television for background noise…and what a crazy day for football in the SEC. Auburn was upset by South Carolina; Texas A&M took out Mississippi State (whose only win is, natch, LSU); Kentucky embarrassed Tennessee in Knoxville, Arkansas somehow took out Ole Miss; and then in the big game of the day, Alabama took out Georgia decisively for the third time in four years after trailing at half-time. I suspect Alabama is going to run the table this year and be the SEC’s best chance for the national title yet again, which means things are sort of back to normal–although the usual suspects don’t seem to be in a position to challenge. Alabama and Georgia will probably play again the conference championship game–with Florida holding an outside chance at winning the East, but would also have to run the table–it’s possible, as I doubt LSU is going to take Florida down this year. The Saints are playing today at noon, but I’m not sure I am going to watch that or not. (Again, probably have it on as background noise, while I reread Bury Me in Shadows.)

Proofing my story yesterday allowed me to reread it again as well, and much as I hate to say things like this about my own work, “Night Follows Night” is actually a good story, and I did a good job on it. I also realized that, in some ways, the in-progress story “The Flagellants” could easily be tweaked into a sequel to it; which I may try to do, just to see…but by making it a sequel, I don’t know what the crime part of the story could turn out to be. So maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to see how it all turns out, I suppose.

I have two books on hold currently at the library–both of which are research for Chlorine–and I am a bit surprised they didn’t email me to let me know they were waiting for me. I can pick them up on Thursday, and will need to remember to call and make an appointment with them so I can do so. I also need to order prescription refills for Thursday as well, so I can get it all over and done with in one fell swoop. (That might be, in fact, a good day to take pictures of the skeleton house in Uptown–they always do such a great job of decorating for Halloween.)

It’s going to be weird not having Gay Halloween this year, just as it was weird there was no Southern Decadence for the first time in decades. It’s not like I’ve attended or participated in years–or for that matter, even go out on Halloween weekend anymore–but the absence still bothers me somewhat. I also have to go up to Kentucky this year–probably for Thanksgiving–which means I’ll be able to get a lot of reading done and maybe even get some writing done as well. The last time I went up there I checked out audiobooks from the library; I’ll have to do the same again this time. Perhaps Stephen King’s The Institute, or another one of his works that I’ve not had the chance to read yet? I am not so sure that it’s perhaps the wisest thing to do to travel–Mom and Dad are getting up there, and if I am an asymptomatic carrier…yeah, so I don’t know. Maybe I should put it off until after this is all over, I don’t know.

Perhaps indeed.

I need to get back to reading for pleasure and education again, seriously. I am still reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is well-written but rather dense–it’s not like it’s hard to put it down and walk away from it–and I want to dive back onto gobbling up short stories again. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the stack of collections and anthologies I set aside for the Short Story Project, for example, and of course the latest Lawrence Block anthology is right there next to it.

Yesterday I felt a little off–gastronomically speaking; mostly some terrible heartburn that thankfully seems to have gone away overnight while I slept, which of course had me more than a little concerned. I’ve not had that in a while–of course, I forgot to take my pills both Friday and yesterday, but even after taking them for yesterday the heartburn remained, which was disconcerting and alarming. Needless to say, I am quite delighted this morning that it’s gone away–and I should go take my pills right now, shouldn’t I, while I’m thinking about it and before I forget?

Okay, I am back now. The sun is in my eyes as it rises in the east over the West Bank–is it any wonder we are so off here in New Orleans?–but it’ll just be annoying and right in my eyes for a couple of minutes. Once I finish this, I think I am going to draft some emails to be sent tomorrow morning, and then adjourn to my easy chair with some short stories to read, as well as some of my own work to look over, reread, and correct. When the Saints game starts I’ll probably launch into the reread of Bury Me in Shadows–it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it, and so much is always going on that it’s hard for me to remember anything and everything, which is just plain wrong.

Sigh. I really miss my memory.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. One more cup of coffee, a Sara Paretsky short story, and then a shower to get my day going. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Mirrorball

The sun is shining and there doesn’t seem to be any wind at all outside my windows this morning. The sidewalk is littered with leaves and some small branches, and even that’s not really indicative of much beyond having a thunderstorm here last night. I don’t remember hearing any thunder, nor even any rain last evening–but I am rather nervous about seeing what damage Delta did to western Louisiana. The road to recovery there is going to be long, sadly, and even longer because this was the second time they got hit in less than two months. Just awful.

Today I have a lot of writing to do; I have to finish revising an essay as well as a short story, and I also have some website writing to get done. I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon, after I finished condom packing for the day and was going about cleaning the Lost Apartment–I don’t know where my doldrums and malaise about both writing and my career has come from lately; if it was merely a combination of overwhelming factors (COVID-19, the news on a daily basis, stress from my volunteer work, or a combination of them all, coupled with the shift in my routine from the changes at work that are COVID related, and of course, the dying desktop–JFC, what a shitty year this has been) but yesterday I seemed to snap out of it somewhat. I spent a lot of the evening last night cleaning up my Cloud drive–it still needs work–but I also started thinking about all the writing I’ve done and all the writing I need to do and literally it was like slapping myself in the face. There are a lot of things about this business I have no control over; but one thing I do have control over is the writing itself. All I can do is write the best work that I can, focus on making it the best it can be, and send it out into the world and hope for the best. I’m going to try to not beat myself up so much over everything as much as I have been doing this year–in other words, I need to stop being so hard on myself and give myself a break every now and again.

There are only so many hours in every day, and sometimes it’s okay, and necessary, to spend some time letting your brain recharge.

Sometimes I feel like this entire year my mind has been functioning as though through a fog of some sort, and it’s perfectly okay. It has been a traumatic year for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that next year will be any better–remember when we all couldn’t wait for 2019 to end?–but I plan on moving forward while trying to stay positive about everything. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already, and there’s certainly no need for me to add anything to that. But I think what’s been missing this year, at least for me, is my ambition–I’ve not been particularly ambitious this year, and I’ve sort of been letting my life happen rather than trying to take control of it, which is what I did the first thirty-three years I was alive, drifting through life aimlessly to see where it led me, and that’s a horrible waste of time. Obviously, there are certain things that are completely out of our control, but I’ve also not been grasping the reins of the things I can control. I’ve been allowing myself to simply be a pinball bouncing around in a game being played by a master, who’s managed to keep the ball in play, sending me from flipper to bumper to flipper to slingshot to bumper to flipper again–and I need to grab hold and start steering again.

Because the LSU-Missouri game was moved to Columbia from Baton Rouge, the game is now airing at 11 CDT, which means in only a couple of hours. I am going to finish this, go through my emails, and then retire to my easy chair with my laptop and work on the essay during the game. It should be over by three, and then I can work on the website writing–I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day watching football games, frankly, but my mind could easily be changed/distracted and head in that direction later–and if I can get the essay and the website writing done today, I can focus on the short story revision tomorrow, and maybe even move on to Chapter 11 of Bury Me in Shadows, which I would love to have a finished draft of by Halloween, so I can spend the next month or so polishing and revising it before I send it in–early, even, if I am lucky. The final revision and polish of #shedeservedit is going to take longer than this one, so giving myself more time to work on it is probably the wisest course of action.

And then….it’s on to Chlorine, which I am really excited about.

There are also some calls for submission I’ve seen lately that I might have something for, which is exciting, and there’s also the possibility that I could write something new as well. I really want to get back to my pandemic short story, “The Flagellants,” which I am not sure anyone will want to publish but the story has taken some shape in my head; there are a couple of others I can revise and send out there to markets–“Death and the Handmaidens,” “Moves in the Field,” “This Thing of Darkness”–and some others I want to finish–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “No Place Like Home,”–as you can see, Constant Reader, I am feeling particularly ambitious this morning–and there’s another period Sherlock story I would like to write, “The Mother of Harlots.” (Look at me, writing another Sherlock story with no market for it!) There was also a submission call for stories set in the 1960’s, and methinks I would love to write a short story around the Clay Shaw trial, which would be kind of fun to do (God, New Orleans history is so richly layered and textured it’s not even funny!) and of course, I need to be reading.

We started watching season 2 of The Boys last night, and it’s still very well done, just as the first season was, and of course, the entire concept of super-heroes as assholes remains perfect–and it got me to thinking about Superman and what’s been wrong with the recent adaptations of the Man of Steel on film. Henry Cavill is absolutely perfect in the role, but the issue I have with the films is this angsty look at Superman they’ve been giving us. Superman is suppose to be a beacon hope–the great American Boy Scout–as opposed to his darker counterpart, Batman. There will be more discussion of this at a later blog date, once we’ve finished The Boys.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and if you have some spare cash, can you donate something to western Louisiana hurricane relief? It would be most appreciated.

Invisible String

Labor Day morning, and I feel rested. I’ve not felt this good in quite some time, frankly–I am sure ignoring my emails and staying away from social media over the course of the long weekend has something to do with that, indubitably–and now I am having my morning coffee and slowly coming alive. May as well enjoy it while I can, since tomorrow I have to get up unbearably early, but we only have one clinic day this week and it’s also a four-day work week, so maybe it won’t be so bad on my physically.

I worked on the book for a little while yesterday; not very much, not nearly as much writing as needed to be done over the long weekend–which is inevitably always the lament, is it not? But getting rest–both physical and mental–is also inevitably necessary and a necessity. I did manage to not only finish reading Little Fires Everywhere over the course of the weekend, but I also finished The Coyotes of Carthage (which will be getting its own entry eventually) and started reading Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World, which is not only extraordinary but nothing like I was expecting–and I was also going in blind, knowing nothing about the book other than I had read his earlier novel A Head Full of Ghosts and really enjoyed it. It features and centers, for example, a happily married gay couple and their adopted child; didn’t see or expect that coming. I’m about halfway through the book, and while I certainly don’t want to give anything away, I am already planning on spending some more time with it today. Reading is such an escape (always has been) and a pleasure for me my entire life; I never really understand what it’s like for people who don’t read, or who don’t like to read–its so outside of my own experience I’m not sure I could ever understand choosing not to read.

The work I did on the book yesterday, while not a lot, was also quite good work, and I am certain that the rising quality of this novel I am writing has everything to do with the high quality of what I am reading these days. I mean, between Matt Ruff, Celeste Ng, Steven Wright, and Paul Tremblay, one really cannot go wrong, can one? I’ve also come to understand that my deadlines–while arbitrarily set–are also set up to maximize time, and are also predicated on the idea that I can actually have the energy–both physical and creative–to do good work every day. I’m not sure that I can anymore–not sure that I ever could–but the mindset is the key, and I know after seeing clients for eight hours, I really don’t have the bandwidth to write anymore the way I used to; which inevitably, I am sure, has something to do with the malaise this current world in which we live has created. Malaise is probably not the right word; depression is probably closer to what I really mean–there’s this weird depressive thing going on in my subconscious that makes macro issues I would ordinarily blow off or ignore or brush off much more micro and much more draining on me.

So, what is a writer to do in these days? Self-care, as I have noted before, is more important than ever. I am going to use the massage roller this morning, and possibly do some stretching exercises as I get ready to face this day–I intend to write today; it’s been lovely dipping my toe into it most of the weekend but I really need to dive into the pool today–and I’d also like to get some more cleaning done at some point. There are electronic files to sort as well, and filing to be done; floors to be cleaned and laundry to fold; all the endless minutiae I always intend to keep up with as I go but inevitably push the back of the priority list and do nothing about until they reach a point like the one they are at now: a literal mess that requires more focused work than ordinarily they would. And while my energies are frequently scattered…I have found that the binge reading I’ve been doing has done a lot to create a sort of inner peace that I’ve been missing lately. I also think I’ve sort of been in mourning about the loss of football season–yes, I know they are going to try to have a season, but it’s not a real season and thus not the same thing; this will be the first year since 2010 that Paul and I have not gone to at least one game in Tiger Stadium–but at the same time, that has also freed up my weekends. My goal for this week is to read a short story a day, as well as a chapter or two per day of whatever book I am currently reading–I suspect I may finish the Tremblay today, it’s that good and that unputdownable–as well as to do some stretches every morning after I get up and before I take my shower. I think regimenting my days into a sort of routine–since I clearly love routines when I can manage to stick to them–is perhaps the smartest way to go.

We watched the new episode of The Vow last night, and it’s getting more and more chilling the deeper into the series we go; I’m glad it’s currently not binge-able, because watching one episode per week makes it more easily digestible. They are doing a most excellent job as well of showing how attractive NXIVM was; a lot of the things they talk about, when it comes to taking responsibility for yourself and changing your mentality and behavior to become more successful, sounds like practical advice you can apply to improve your life–but there’s certainly a dark side to the whole thing. Last night’s episode, which brought up the branding and master/slave “sorority” within the organization, was positively chilling.

We also started watching the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, Raised by Wolves, which is extraordinary. We watched all three episodes that were made available immediately, and it’s quite an accomplishment; it looks very expensive, with no expense spared on production design and special effects. The story itself is also interesting, if a bit hard to understand to begin with; it’s set in 2145, and Earth has been ravaged to the point of becoming unlivable because of a religious war, between Mithraic religion (worship of the sun) and atheists. Since Earth was becoming uninhabitable, both sides launched space ships to another Earth-like planet to save humanity; and it gets a lot more complicated from there. It’s a very high-concept show, and I am curious to see how it all plays out going forward. If you’re a science fiction fan, I’d recommend it; I don’t know if people who generally don’t watch sci-fi would like it as much–I could be wrong. I would have never guessed, for example, that Game of Thrones would have become the cultural phenomenon that it was.

And I still haven’t decided what short stories to focus on writing, although I am leaning towards “After the Party”, “The Flagellants”, “Waking the Saints”, “Please Die Soon,” and “He Didn’t Kill Her.”

And on that note, tis back into the spice mines with me.

My Head is Spinning

And somehow here it is Wednesday yet again.

And it’s pay day; or as it is known in my corner of the Lost Apartment, “pay the bills and hope there’s grocery money left day.” I’m still swilling electrolytes every day. I managed a cup of coffee yesterday without a relapse; I may try a second cup today (“Greg never has a second cup at home”–ten points to anyone who gets that reference); that’s me, always living on the edge. But I have been feeling better. I’ve been tired, but the kind that comes from insomnia, not that wretched exhausted-drained-of-all-energy tired that comes with whatever this is–dehydration or whatever. That is quite a relief. But I finally slept well last night, and actually feel rested and healthy this morning. Huzzah!

I woke up to an amazing thunderstorm (and the inevitable flash flood warnings in the city). It’s pouring outside, bright flashes of nearby lightning followed by rolling thunder that seems to last forever. One of the many things I love about living here in New Orleans is the glorious thunderstorms we have here; I don’t think I could ever live in a desert climate again with its dry heat and rare rain. And sure, the flash floods aren’t particularly fun–especially if you get caught in one in your car–but I’d rather that then little to no rain ever. I’m also kind of glad to be working from home today so I don’t have to go out into it; that’s also quite lovely–but as I’ve said before to friends–the thing about being out in New Orleans rain is that your umbrella is useless because you’re going to get soaked anyway, so you might as well give into it and enjoy it.

Sometimes getting drenched in a rainstorm is a lot of fun.

Last night we finished watching Ordeal by Innocence, and while it’s been quite a long time since I read the novel by Agatha Christie, I feel relatively confidence in saying that I don’t think the television adaptation hewed closely to the novel–like the adaptation of The Pale Horse we watched over the weekend; as opposed to that, however, at least this revision (or reimagining, if you prefer) of Christie’s original story was rather well done. Again, I’m not entirely sure why screenwriters and producers feel they can do better than Christie, but there it is, and as I said, at least this one was told well and interesting. Excellent cast, as well.

As always, the Lost Apartment is tragically a disaster area again this morning; the illness and exhaustion have sadly long kept me from doing a deep and thorough clean–I’ve accomplished some surface cleaning, but haven’t done the floors in quite some time, and it shows–and I am hopeful that today, once I’m through with my workday, I can get some writing done. I am so horribly and woefully behind on everything that I fear I may never catch up. I’ve simply got to get the Sherlock story worked on, and I need to get the Secret Project caught up, and there’s another couple of stories I really want to be working on as well–“Condos for Sale or Rent” and “The Flagellants”–and of course, the novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”. Sigh. Will I ever have time to work on everything and finish everything I want to finish? Most likely not.

And on that depressing note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

It’s A Sin

Ah, SIN.

The human concept of sin is something that has alays fascinated me; as does the societal distinction that sin isn’t necessarily a crime. Adultery, after all, made the Top Ten in the Bible; but adultery isn’t a crime, at least in our country. Maybe I’ve been reading too much medieval plague history, but as a result the entire concept of sin v. crime has been running through my head a lot. We also always tend to speak and think of historical as being more religious and superstitious than our modern, “rational” time; which is why when the religious superstitions start finding their way out of the woodwork, people are always surprised. I’ve seen that a lot, actually, since 2008; the surprise of people who were just now noticing that much of organized religion is steeped in bigotry propped up by skillful, selective usage of their “holy” book while ignoring the parts that do not prove their bigotry and ignorance as holy. I’ve been toying, since the start of this current pandemic and the beginning of my own plague readings, with a story called “The Flagellants,” based on an idea obtained from rereading Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and it’s plague chapter–about a movement of religious fanatics who believed God had sent the plague as a punishment for mankind’s sin (as fanatics have always believed in divine punishment as long as they have believed there are gods in the sky), and marched through the streets praying and repenting loudly while flogging themselves; their theory (if one can call it that) was that they were representing mankind’s penitence to God and therefore their behavior was intended to get God to take the scourge away. This set me to thinking about that Christian group that loves to show up here in the Quarter during Southern Decadence and Carnival to loudly tell us all, through megaphones and over amplifiers, that we are all sinners that need to repent and find our way back to the Lord, and wondering why they weren’t parading through the streets of the Quarter, doing something similar. (Their faith isn’t as strong as they would have us believe, apparently.) And so I started writing said story, but wasn’t really sure where to take it…I have some ideas; hopefully this weekend will help me sketch some of those ideas out.

Ah, sin.

A three day weekend is always a delight; I’m of the mind that every weekend should be three days rather than two. It generally takes me one day to rest and recover from the weekend, which is when I do my errands and clean and so forth, and then I am centered enough and rested enough (after two good night’s sleep) to get some work done on Sunday. With a three day weekend, that gives me an extra day to simply focus on writing. Naturally, of course, if every weekend was a three day weekend it would eventually prove also to not be enough time for me, I suppose, and so probably best to leave things as they are and simply enjoy those weekends when they come around. I have some plans for today; primarily a grocery run and perhaps a trip to the gym, along with some cleaning and organizing and perhaps some writing/brainstorming.

We continue to enjoy The Great on Hulu; I do recommend it, it’s very entertaining if not always the most historically accurate–and as I have stated many times, when it comes to television or film adaptations of actual historical events, accuracy inevitably goes out the window (the most egregious example of this being The Tudors. By combining Henry VIII’s sisters Margaret and Mary into one person, and then having her die without children, they essentially erased not only the Brandon/Grey line–no Nine Days’ Queen Jane Grey–but also the Scottish Stewarts; so no Mary Queen of Scots or any of the royalty since the death of Elizabeth I); and complaining about historical inaccuracies in fictional representations of actual history is low-hanging fruit, as it were.

I also want to finish reading Phyllis A. Whitney’s The Red Carnelian, and I’ve also started rereading a book from one of my favorite kids’ series, the Ken Holt mysteries by Bruce Campbell. The Ken Holt series is always neck and neck with The Three Investigators as my favorite kids’ series; they are very well written, action-packed, and well plotted as well; with a kind of hard-boiled edge to them. The first book in the series, The Secret of Skeleton Island, (a title also used in The Three Investigators series) introduces us not only to our young hero but to the people at Global News (Ken’s father is a globe trotting reporter; his mother is dead, and since his father is gone a lot Ken is at a boarding school somewhere outside of New York; I always assumed it was up the Hudson valley but it may have actually been Long Island), and how Ken meets up with, and basically is adopted into, the Allen family. I’m actually enjoying the book–and considering it was written for 9-12 year olds in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, and it still holds up, is saying quite a bit. The fact these books never caught on or were as popular as, say the Hardy Boys, and have been out of print for decades, is disgraceful.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I look forward to speaking to you again this weekend.

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